Guide to Spread Betting on Sport

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  1. Basics of Spread Betting
  2. The Spread
  3. Negative Spreads
  4. Buying and Selling
  5. Losing More Than Your Stake
  6. Types of Spread Bet
  7. Further Reading

Whatever sport you follow, spread betting offers a way of leveraging a big win from a relatively small stake. At the same time, the greater risked involved can mean spread bets can be pretty painful if things go against you. In this guide we run you through the basics of spread betting on sports, looking at some specific examples of the kinds of bet you can place and the key things to consider before you do.

The Basics of Spread Betting

In the financial world you’d bet on how far the stock market might move one way or the other, whereas as in sport you might bet on how many tries a rugby team get in a game, the number of frames a snooker player wins a match by, or any other number factors .So rather than betting on a set outcome, for example, betting £5 on United to beat City (or the other way around if you prefer – we don’t want to be partisan about this!) you bet on the degrees by which that outcome might be reached (for example, betting £5 for every goal that United beat City by).

This system means that, with only a small stake you could end up winning much more than you might with a more straightforward bet. A successful bet on United to win (to stick with our example) would bring you a set prize based on the odds you were offered by the bookie, regardless of whether it was an emphatic victory or a narrow smash and grab affair. With a spread bet, you might win any number of different amounts. Say it was a shock result (and these days there seem to be just as many shock results as expected ones) and United won by a big margin, you could win a whole lot more. It’s not just a case of being right, it’s about how right you get it. Given just how unpredictable sports are, it’s little surprise that the rewards for getting it spot on are high, especially if the rest of the world thinks things are likely to go the other way.

Of course, given that it’s not a simple matter of getting it right or getting it wrong, bookies can’t offer fixed odds as they would with regular bets. Instead, figuring out exactly how much you might win or lose (and deciding whether or not you think the wager is worth making) depends on looking at what is known the ‘spread’.

The Spread

In our above example we were going to bet £5 for every goal United scored more than City. In reality, a bookie would only offer to pay you for every goal that one team got over the other if they thought the sides were completely even. Of course, there’s usually a favourite.

In a straight forward bet the bookie will handicap those backing the side they think most likely to win by offering shorter odds. At the same time, they offer an incentive to those deciding to back an upset by offering longer odds. In spread betting, ‘the spread’ takes over the role that odds play in a regular bet, compensating for the difference in the sides’ chances.

So, let’s say United are favourites to beat City. This will be reflected in the spread. In this scenario, the spread for the bet you want to make (on how many more than their opposition they will score) might look something like this:

0.6 – 0.8

Looks a bit confusing, but it’s quite simple. This is basically the bookie’s prediction on how many more than city they expect United to score. They are saying ‘We reckon United will win by between 0.6 and 0.8 goals. If you think they’ll win by more than that, go ahead and back them.’

So given that is the case, they’ll only be paying you for every goal over 0.8 that United win by (of course, there’s no such thing as 0.8 of a goal, but this doesn’t make a difference to the bet, as you’ll see.) Let’s imagine that you want to place you bet. You put in a stake of £5 and in the end United win the game by 4-2. You’ve won the bet (congratulations!).

To work out how much you’ve won, you first have to figure out how much you beat the spread by. To do this you subtract the spread from the actual margin. In this case that’s:

2 - 0.8 = 1.2.

To figure out much you’ve actually won, you multiply this number by your stake. For us, that’s:

1.2 x 5 = £6

That’s just the amount of profit you won. You get your stake back too, so you walk away with £11.

Negative Spreads

Of course, in this example United where the bookies favourites. If they’d been the underdogs you would’ve won more. In this type of bet a spread can be negative. If the bookie hadn’t reckoned United stood much of a chance the spread might have been -0.8 - -0.6.

In this case the difference between the actual margin and the spread would’ve been 2.6 (2 - -6 = 2.6). Therefore you would’ve won £18 in total (2.6 x 5 + your original stake).

‘Buying’ and ‘Selling’

So far we’ve focused on one example, in which the person placing the bet thought the end result would be higher than the bookies spread. When you want to bet that the outcome, whatever that might be, will be higher than the spread, that is called ‘buying’. If you want to go lower than the spread, that’s called ‘selling’.

Selling is basically just buying in reverse, but let’s go over a quick example to make it clear how it works. You see the spread for United outscoring City is 0.6 - 0.8. You think the bookie has gone too high, so you ‘sell’ with a £5 stake. It turns out you were right. United lose 2-0. The difference between the real margin and the spread is 2.6 so you win £18 in total.

As you’ll have noticed from these examples, of the two numbers in any given spread, the higher one applies if you are buying (and is often referred to as the buying price) and the lower applies to selling (and is, predictably, known as the selling price).

Losing More than Your Stake

Just to remind you that things don’t always go your way, we should look at an example of a losing bet. One of the major differences between a regular bet and a spread betting, is that, whilst on a normal fixed odds bet, no matter how much you might win, if your hunch is out all you have to lose is your stake. With a spread bet you can lose more than your bet.

So, let’s say that you saw a spread of 0.6-0.8 for United scoring more than City and decided to buy with a £5 stake. Unfortunately for you, United have a nightmare and, despite being favoured by the bookie, end up losing 6-1 (can you imagine?). You will calculate your loss like so:

-5 (how many United were down by) – 0.8 = -5.8

-5.8 x 5 (your stake) = - 29

So, you’ve lost £29.

Stop Losses and Stop Wins

As we know, though all sports have their averages, they also have outliers. Let’s go with another footballing example. The average number of goals in a Premier League game is about 2.5 varying from year to year. In the past games between top teams were often low scoring affairs, due to the high stakes causing teams to be cautious as well as being fairly evenly matched. With that in mind, if ahead of the 2011 match up between Manchester United and Arsenal someone had seen a bookie offer a spread of 2.3-2.5 for a bet on the total number of goals in the game, you wouldn’t have thought it too reckless for a punter to think ‘they’ve gone to high I’ll sell with a £30’ stake.

In the event, the game took everyone by surprise, ending 8-2. That’s 10 goals, which is 7.7 higher than the sell price. 30 multiplied by 7.7 is £231. From putting up a safe looking bet, for a stake worth about the same as a meal out and a couple of drinks, our punter has ended up losing a hefty sum that’s likely far more than they’d budgeted for.

This might make you feel that spread betting isn’t worth it, as though you might like a gamble, you want to know how far you might end up out of pocket before hand, so you can plan for the worse. This is where stop losses and stop wins come into play. They basically put a definitive limit on how much you can lose by limiting the bet to certain parameters.

Obviously, as this is less risky for you, some of your potential reward is taken away to. When you use a stop loss, you will also have an equivalent stop win in place. This puts a maximum on what you can win. Stop losses and stop wins are in proportion to each other, so the less risk you allow for, the lower your stop win will be.

Types of Spread Bet

Now we understand exactly how spread betting works, let’s look at just some of the different markets available in some of your favourite sports.


  • Goal Supremacy: This means the difference in the number of goals scored, as per our example.
  • Corners: Buy if you think they’ll be more than the spread, sell if less.
  • Shirt Numbers: The sum of all the goal scorers’ shirt numbers.
  • Bookings: Yellows count for ten points, reds count as 25. Guess higher or lower than the spread.
  • First Goal Minutes: Again, guess higher or lower. This is measured in minutes, so remember you’re betting per a point on a scale of roughly 94 (the amount of minutes a game usually lasts) and take that into account when setting your stake.
  • Long Term Markets: These are where you bet over long term performance. You might wager higher or lower than the spread for the number of points a team rack up in a season, for example.


  • Try Supremacy: Same as goal supremacy but with tries.
  • Total points: Same as total goals but with points.
  • Points Supremacy: Difference in points (including penalties etc).
  • Try Scorers Shirts: Same as goal scorer’s shirts, but with tries.
  • First Try Minute: Again, the same as the football equivalent.


  • Supremacy: The margin of victory. This is calculated in points. If the team wins by runs, it’s one point per run, if they win by wickets it’s 10 points per wicket.
  • Batsmen Runs: Bet higher or lower than the spreads prediction for how many runs a batsman will score.
  • Bowler Wickets: As above but with regards to how many wickets a bowler takes.
  • Total Runs: Bet on how many runs a team will amass.


  • Supremacy: Again, this is a bet on the margin of victory. It’s measured in games rather than sets, so unlike in the actual match, in the bet games won in a losing set still count for something. You bet per a point, each game being worth a one point.
  • Total Points/Aces/Double Faults: Go higher or lower against the spread on any of the above.
  • Total Games: Give the nature of scoring in tennis in some tournaments any number of games can be played. Some of have gone into well in excess of 100 while some only last 18. Bet higher or lower than the spread. The more evenly matched the opponents on the day, the more games there will be.


  • Position: A bet on where on the leader board a golfer comes in a tournament.
  • Match: Pick two golfers playing in a tournament and predict by how many shots one will outperform the other over the course of 72 holes.
  • Winning Score: The total number of shots the winner of a tournament makes.
  • Players Under Par: How many of the field end the tournament under par.

Horse Racing

  • Favourites: The bookie awards points to the favourite in each race according to its place (typically 25 for first, 10 for second and 5 for third). You bet per a point higher or lower.
  • Distances: Bet per a length on the winning distance. You can also bet on the distance between 2nd and 3rd.
  • Stop at Winner: You bet on how many races in the meeting will go by before a favourite wins. You bet per a point and each race that goes by before it happens is worth ten points.
  • Double Numbers: The spread represents the race card number of all the winners at a meeting doubled. You decide it it’s too high or too low.
  • Match Bet: This keeps things simple. You simply pick two horses and bet on the number of lengths they’ll finish apart.

Further Reading


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